The Prestige

  • Christopher Nolan
  • 2006

Director Christopher Nolan follows up last year’s Batman Begins with a period piece about two Englsih magicians battling it out to learn each other’s secrets and perform the most amazing trick: ‘The Transported Man’. Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) are initially two aids to an escape act involving Angier’s wife Julia (Piper Perabo) and masterminded by trick supremeo Cutter (Michael Caine). However, when Borden ties a knot round Julia’s hand too tight she drowns, breaking their friendship forever. When they set off to make a name for themselves as solo magicians, they become locked in a battle of upstaging each other’s career. As the rivalry intensifies, Borden’s ability to seemingly teleport himself across a stage becomes the centre of their duelling ways.

Based on the novel of the same name by Christopher Priest, writer/director Nolan, together with his brother and fellow writer Jonathan Nolan, effectively construct this story of two men obsessed by their work around the unravelling of several story strands in different parts of the film’s timeline. While in the present Borden is in prison accused of killing Angier, we see in flashback their developing bids to be the number one magician in England and also Angier’s quest to learn the secret of the machine Borden asked real-life scientist Nikolas Tesla (David Bowie) to make for his Transported Man show. The first two strands build up the characters by layering in Borden’s wife Sarah (Rebecca Hall) and Angier’s assistant-turned-girlfriend Olivia (Scarlett Johansson) in flashback and raising questions that need to be answered in the present. That alone will keep you watching and guessing the secrets Borden is hiding. However, the introduction of Tesla makes for an unsettled final act that tries to go at a measured pace for major twist revelations, but ends up making a mess of it all. You will be hard pushed to have any unresolved questions in your head 30 minutes from the end.

You will be hard pushed to have any unresolved questions in your head 30 minutes from the end.

As Cutter states, there are three elements to a magic trick: the pledge, the turn and the prestige. In the pledge, a magician shows you something you think is ordinary. In the turn, the ordinary becomes the extraordinary. Then, while you are trying to figure that out comes the third stage – the prestige. This is the crowning moment of a performance, aimed to leave the crowd gasping in awe and applauding with delight. This twist design is what The Prestige is all about, taking what seems to be a normal story and producing a series of remarkable turns that evolve into the prestige finale. Sadly for us, while the initial interest of the magic on offer provides the entertainment early on, Nolan gets too bogged down with niggling details and minor points. It becomes far too obvious what many of the so-called prestige twists will be and, even worse, drifts into the realm of fantasy after going at lengths to suggest that all we saw and could not believe has a plausible explanation.

…Nolan gets too bogged down with niggling details and minor points.

Both Jackman and Bale put in excellent turns as the confident showman and shy ideas man respectively. Their broken friendship makes for an compelling film and there is great support from Caine, Johansson, Hall and even Bowie. It is a pity that these performances feel laboured due to the increasingly drawn-out story. If only Nolan could have wrapped everything up a little quicker, it truly could lay claim to having a prestige portion. Instead it is like guessing a magician’s trick before he has even begun to start. Nevertheless, The Prestige remains very watchable and will do no one’s reputation harm.

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